I have lived for over 2 decades with PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome), yet I had not been diagnosed until in my 30’s. PCOS means you have many follicles on your ovaries, which are underdeveloped sacs. These sacs are unable to release eggs and so ovulation does not occur. There is no medication to cure PCOS but there are alterations, you can make to your life, to make it somewhat manageable.
The indicators for PCOS normally follow the lines of acne, excess hair and irregular periods. All of which I have had since my teenage years (quite obviously). These symptoms were considered separately and the dots were not connected until I went to India to see a dermatologist. As soon as I discussed the aforementioned symptoms, she asked me whether I had been diagnosed with PCOS to which I said no and looked completely dumbfounded. She asked me to get this checked out and to cut out dairy and sugar, as this was part of the cause of my acne and also helped in my diet. Luckily, I don’t like cheese anyway (how could I not? I know) and so this wasn’t too taxing on me.
I, then returned to the UK and insisted on having an ultrasound and within 30 seconds it was quite clear I had PCOS. I didn’t really look into it much further, as I was told the only way to look into managing it was with birth control and being active. I didn’t want to use any medication and I was already considering going to the gym. There wasn’t much around PCOS at the time except for the NHS diagnosis.
Little did I know that there was more to PCOS, than the anxiety inducing symptoms of acne and excess hair. For years, I had always had trouble losing weight from my belly and this was after changing my diet to include more wholegrains and less sugar. But, even after making these changes I had always found that it was really easy for me to put on weight and then extremely hard to lose it. Which I know, is a common problem for most but I found this, even when I was really conscious of what I was eating.
Management and Mental Health
I started going to the gym but this was really hit and miss, as I found it really hard to be consistently active. There would be some points where there wouldn’t be much difference to my weight that just led me to give up. But after some time I decided, I wanted to strengthen my body and started going to the gym to work on my strength.
Working on my strength meant, I was also losing weight as I was more active, however I have still not been able to shift the belly fat. This started becoming extremely frustrating and after looking into it more, PCOS also impacts weight because another symptom is insulin resistance. In short, this means that the body doesn’t respond properly to insulin it makes. Which in turn raises your blood sugar levels and your weight is then affected. It is more common that PCOS sufferer’s bellies, want to hold onto the fat more dearly!
I am now on a mission to get those highly coveted abs. It is a tougher journey than someone without PCOS but it’s about figuring out what works well for your body. I have found that overall exercise is an integral part of my everyday life.
I currently exercise many times a week, which is excessive for some but I find that I need it to manage my mental health and weight. I am finding this difficult at the moment for a number of reasons:
- It’s the winter and I suffer from SAD
- PCOS also means I have anxiety, low mood and fatigue
- Its cold outside and sometimes have to spend 10 minutes scraping my car
So I am trying to battle through these hindrances by going as much as I am able because the exercise helps with my low mood. Trying to be consistent is the best thing for me, otherwise I become entangled in a catch 22 situation which derails the work I have put in place to manage my PCOS.
However, I have also realised that listening to my body and taking a break now and again may be all I need to ease the impact on my mood/anxiety. You constantly have to be aware of how you are feeling which I have found difficult as, I don’t always want to give into the low moods. But sometimes staying in the duvet longer in the morning, may help my mood more than dragging myself to the gym.
Though I am able to manage the effects of PCOS on my body, changing my diet made changes to my body and skin. With my hair I have had to resort to laser treatment. I have recently started to look more into managing my stress, a lot of the stress when I was younger was due to the acne and excess hair.
There were days my acne would cause me not to go out or really dread it. Constantly having to get rid of hair which is conventionally not seen as ‘ladylike’ became tiring. And there were many days, which turned into weeks where I didn’t want to have to manage this any more. I slowly started making changes and started to see some results. My acne reduced and I was able to work off the weight. However, my anxiety and low mood remained.
For this, I realise I need to manage my stress more intentionally and work on what affects me, my triggers and how I can reduce stress and anxiety. It’s different for each individual. I have found it is something you can manage and I have become more persistent and resilient as a result of having anxiety and low mood related to PCOS.